Is there really a crisis around identity politics on the left?


“[R]radical queerness and anti-racism are not forms of identity politics; and class struggle is not free from questions of identity. All forms of social life are already coded by class, race, gender and disability, so there are no forms of politics or struggle that exist outside these structures of social power. The claim that intersectional critiques distract from the ‘real struggle’ or are divisive is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of both intersectionality and socialism: the question is not whether the two can be integrated, but how. […]

By the same token, the claim that non-binary queerness is solely an expression of individual freedom is based on a liberal misunderstanding. For me, being queer is not just a private preference, it’s about how I behave, know, talk, organise, work and live. Being queer is a necessary response to structural oppression; a vehicle to confront and resist the ways in which capitalism, racism and patriarchy seep into the most intimate aspects of my life. Queerness is not freedom from social interference, it’s the opposite—an active and responsible engagement with the structures of social power.”

Read the full article on Open Democracy:


Why Britons have to embrace tactical voting in the upcoming election


“As the British Prime Minister has called an election for 8th June in order to strengthen her mandate for a hard Brexit (or perhaps to replace the 20-odd Tory MPs who are reportedly charged with electoral fraud and who would likely face suspension), British liberals and lefties are agonising over which non-Tory option to vote for.

Voting out the Tories will save many lives and mitigate much suffering, so it is an important thing to do. We should not, however, deceive ourselves to believe that there are good alternatives to the Tories when there are only less bad ones. In this election, tactical voting is all there is. If we want a society that is better than merely ‘less bad’, we must stop relying on the nation-state and instead organise together in our communities.”

Read the full article on Open Democracy.


British people agree with Corbyn more than they realise

The most common argument against Jeremy Corbyn is that people wouldn’t vote for him jeremy-corbyn_0in a general election. And indeed, recent polls show that he is miles behind Theresa May in popularity. This autumn, polls that have asked who would make the best Prime Minister have shown that well over half of respondents prefer Theresa May, while only ten to twenty percent of respondents prefer Jeremy Corbyn over all other party leaders. (This does not translate directly into voting intentions, however, since many of those who dislike Jeremy Corbyn would still vote for Labour in an election; the Labour party is only a few percentage points behind the Conservatives in most polls.)

But why is Corbyn so unpopular? Do people really disagree with his policies?

Several different polls in recent months have attempted to clarify which elements of Corbynite politics the British people don’t like. And the results are startling. It turns out that British people agree with much more of Corbyn’s politics than they disagree. For example, a YouGov poll showed that 67% of British people want government welfare cuts to be reduced or stopped. An ICM poll showed that 47% of people want to renationalise the railways (while only 25% don’t). Older polls from last year show that over 90% of people in the country are in favour of rent control on private housing, 60% of people want the minimum wage to be raised to a living wage, half want to cut tuition fees, and 59% are worried about the NHS and see it as ‘very important’ that healthcare remains free. All of these views are directly aligned with Corbyn’s, and quite distant from the Conservative Party’s.

The issues on which people tend to disagree with Corbyn revolve around three things. The first of these is defence, and the second is immigration. According to the recent ICM poll, 50% of Britons disagree with Corbyn’s policy to stop Trident, 59% want to stay in NATO, and 57% are opposed to cuts in defence spending. Meanwhile, 58% want Britain to stop taking refugees from Syria, and the Brexit referendum result clearly indicates that immigration is a source of apprehension among the population – regardless of whether this apprehension stems from misleading media discourse or any real material threat.

That so many people would let their overall inclination towards Corbyn be so coloured by these two factors is rather surprising given that the issues of defence and immigration affect British voters far less than the issues on which they agree with Corbyn. The UK’s defence budget is only at around 2 percent of GDP. Aside from budget expenditure, even somebody who disagrees with academics who argue that offensive military strategies are likely to lessen rather than increase our security, could hardly claim that the threat of military invasion from abroad is the main challenge that Britons face in their lives. Education, health care, elderly care, housing – these are the issues that concern us the most, and they are the ones where most people are politically aligned with Corbyn.

Immigration is a similarly suspicious concern given that immigrants bring a net economic benefit to the UK, EU immigration does not have a lowering effect on wages in low-paid sectors in the UK, and only around 300,000 more people enter the UK each year than leave it – that is, less than five percent of the country’s population. Logically, even someone who is staunchly opposed to immigration should rate the availability of free healthcare, affordable housing, decent education etc as more important based on the influence of those issues on their life. And indeed, the polls cited above would indicate that they do.

The third issue on which the majority disagrees with Corbyn is benefit payments. As the recent ICM poll shows, 55% want the cap on benefit payments to stay, while Corbyn wants to get rid of it. The benefit cap is an upper limit on the amount of benefit payments any household can receive. The current cap has just this month been reduced to £23,000 per year in London and £20,000 in the rest of the country. This includes an entire household’s payments to cover living costs, housing, transport, food, children’s extracurricular activities, etc.

That a majority of people are opposed to generous benefit payments, yet as we saw above are strongly in favour of more funding for the NHS and a re-nationalisation of the railways, indicates that it is not government spending as such that they are opposed to, but government spending in cash directly to households. Indeed, British Social Attitudes polls show that almost half of respondents want to cut benefit spending for unemployed people, and 61% believe that ‘a working-age couple without children who are struggling to make ends meet should look after themselves, rather than the government topping up their wages’.

That Britons let the question of benefit payments influence their voting preferences is more justified than letting the questions of defence and immigration influence them, at least in terms of government spending. Benefit payments are at around 10-13% of Britain’s GDP – over five times as much as defence spending. Around two thirds of British families receive some kind of benefit payment, so it is understandable that the issue feels important to voters.

Overall, however, the data indicates that most Britons are far more closely aligned with Corbyn’s politics than Theresa May’s. On Trident, immigration and cash benefit payments they tend to agree with the Tories, but when it comes to the NHS, higher education, railways and other public services, rent control and minimum wages, their views most closely match Corbyn’s according to surveys. Of course, these surveys have asked a limited number of questions and have not been able to cover all potential points of agreement or disagreement with Corbyn or other politicians. We have no choice but to assume that the issues these polls have asked about are the issues that Britons most care about. But even so – given that the NHS, education, other welfare services, private housing rents and low minimum wages logically influence our lives much more than defence and immigration, it is strikingly suspicious that Corbyn’s popularity is not higher than May’s. That Britons feel strongly about cash benefit payments is more understandable, but it is doubtful whether this would be a good enough reason for the average British voter to favour the Tories over Corbyn’s Labour would they realise what Corbyn’s policies actually are.

The challenge Corbyn faces is not primarily one of convincing the British population to agree with him on key policies, since most of them already do. The challenge, rather, is to communicate the substantial content of his manifesto for Labour, as well as to counteract the hyped media focus on defence and immigration as supposedly pivotal political issues.

It’s gender that’s a joke, not queerness


“Being genderqueer is not about displaying an intellectual image—it’s a matter of life and death. And queer theory is an attempt to understand why and how patriarchal gender norms can enable all this violence, and how we can stop it. […] We have to rethink, and perhaps reject, the notion of gender altogether in order to end gender inequalities. Gender gives us a set of prefabricated choices and styles that can feel convenient sometimes, but for the most part it has a very constricting and damaging effect on our lives by placing us in hierarchies and limiting the choices we can make, and the behaviours we can engage in. Only when we’ve moved beyond masculinity and femininity and invented new modes of human interaction based on equality can gender oppression be overcome.”

Read the full article on Open Democracy.

Give the Sussex lecturer the sack and some care

In recent days, photos of a bruised 24-year old student beaten by her ex-boyfriend, who was until recently a senior lecturer at Sussex University, have circulated on social media. The lecturer was convicted of assault but was allowed to continue teaching at Sussex until pressure from the Students’ Union and a public petition led to his dismissal.

Calling for his sacking has been the main response of commentators so far. What we must Sack3dmodel01.jpg2a58a7e1-821e-40ca-8de5-01f1cfe3ea6dOriginalall remember, however, is that getting this lecturer sacked is not the most constructive part of our reaction. What will truly make a dent on domestic violence is not the ousting of perpetrators, but preventative care and emotional intelligence, as well as the eradication of what has come to be called toxic masculinity.

Coincidentally, I was taught by this lecturer myself for a year in my undergraduate degree over ten years ago (though I didn’t know him in a personal capacity). Since he was a particularly good teacher I was shocked to hear of this incident. It also struck a nerve for me as I have personal experience of domestic violence at the hands of a partner. Meanwhile, sexual harassment and violence perpetrated by teachers in British universities is an issue of growing concern – for example, Sara Ahmed resigned from her post at Goldsmiths in May in protest against the university’s failure to address the issue. As female bodies continue to be beaten and placed in vulnerable positions at university, angry responses are justified. And indeed, much commentary around the Sussex has been vitriolic, calling the lecturer a ‘vile man’ and emphasising the disgrace and injustice of letting him stay for so long. One can sense an element of retributive justice in people’s reaction: sack the fucker! Punish him for what he has done!

It is certainly true that punishment, and even revenge, can have therapeutic effects for victims of violence. For this reason I am happy to see him sacked. Furthermore, as Franz Fanon argued, violence as a response to violence can be the only way for oppressed populations to achieve justice – especially, or perhaps exclusively, if it is organised. Fanon’s argument referred specifically to resistance against European colonialism: faced with the violent invasion of the African continent and bloody genocide, is the waving of a few banners at a peaceful protest really sufficient resistance?

This argument can also be applied to domestic violence: how much longer will women continue to be abused by men? How much longer will the government turn a blind eye? How much longer will women carry on surviving abuse rather than going berserk and refusing to take it any longer?

Shaming perpetrators online, calling them vile and trolling them can be a part of such an aggressive response to aggression. This may be justified, but when it comes to building a sustainably peaceful society we need to turn to other wisdom. If we are to learn anything from constructivist social research and theory – whether social psychology, feminism, anti-racist prison abolitionism or anarchism – horrific behaviours tend to be produced in people as a response to horrific circumstances (or mental ill health or substance abuse), rather than as deliberate creations by inherently evil people.

While we should condemn abusive attacks to the fullest extent – and while victims have every right to express their anger and resistance – we must also be mindful not to demonise the perpetrators. To be clear, I am not saying that victims need to be able to Holding small plantforgive them, or that anyone else should for that matter. But when, as external observers, we speak about these cases in social media we’d be better off avoiding demonising language and transcending calls for punishment. After all, by getting somebody sacked we have not won any victories in terms of ensuring that this person will not attack again. Providing care and therapy is more likely to help with that. More importantly, the sacking of an individual perpetrator does not prevent any new potential attackers – rather, analysing and addressing the underlying causes of aggressive behaviour and abuse is what will help.

Getting someone dismissed might give us the impression that we’ve done something, when actually we have done very little. Instead of sacking and punishment, the pertinent questions facing us are: why are children – and especially boys – not systematically and expertly taught how to identify and express their feelings peacefully? Why do we, as adults, stigmatise those experiencing difficulties with mental health or wellbeing? What pressures – whether gendered, racialised, economic/professional or health-related – push people into situations in which they are no longer able to relate to others in a healthy and respectful way? And how do we organise to resist those pressures? These are the questions that should mainly preoccupy our commentary on this tragedy.

Why allies are welcome to criticise social movements


“There are two problems with the notion that allies who belong to a privileged group should simply ‘shut up and listen.’ The first is that it is often incredibly difficult to determine who or what you’re supposed to shut up and listen to. The second is that allies often have lots of important knowledge that movements need in order to overthrow oppression.”

Read the full article on Open Democracy.